Centuries of social and political exclusion and discrimination of the vast majority of the population in Nepal resulted in an armed conflict (1996–2006) led by the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA) against the Hindu monarchy. After the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was reached in 2006, the country was transformed into a democratic republic. The decision to adopt a federal system seemed to be one of the answers to the root causes of the conflict. However, the implementation of the peace agreement has been challenged by opposing political interests and the deep grievances, anger, and frustration of many of Nepal’s more than 100 different ethnic groups. The failure of the new government structure to address the conflict’s root causes has already led to a second conflict dynamic in the Madhesh region in 2007, and in part again in 2015.
A major milestone was reached when local elections—that were contested for 20 years—were held in six of the seven newly-formed federal provinces in May and June 2017. The high voting turnout of more than 80% showed the people’s interest in deciding on their leaders. To avoid a repetition of the violent escalation in the Terai region as in 2015, the government postponed the elections in one of the provinces (number two) to September 2017. Whether constitutional amendments, which have been strongly demanded, will still come through remains unclear, just as the question whether executive power will really be transferred to the federal level.
At the national level, the transitional justice process to deal with crimes from the armed conflict is moving at a slow pace. So far, none of the perpetrators from the armed conflict have been convicted. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) collected conflict-area related complaints in 2016 and were supposed to enter a phase of deeper investigation before publishing their results in 2017. However, the lacking political will presents a continuous obstacle to serious investigation.
Reconciliation processes and a meaningful transformation of mindsets and structures, which foster the mechanisms of exclusion, discrimination, corruption, and poverty, are still lacking in Nepal today. This makes the current political and societal situation a very fragile one. Recurrent violent clashes and conflicts indicate the need for a more fundamental transformation.
The project “EnActing Dialogue” is a joint project of CSSP and the Nepali NGO Pro Public with the goal of promoting a bottom-up approach to reconciliation and healing. Pro Public created networks of dialog facilitators and local dialog groups from 2012 to 2014. Dialog groups of former PLA combatants and conflict victims started to break the silence about the armed conflict and shared their personal stories from the present and from the past. Since 2015, CSSP has supported the wider outreach of these dialog initiatives at the district and national levels through theater-facilitated dialog. Theater art has proven to work as a strong social connector in Nepali communities. CSSP is building upon this capacity to strengthen empathy and social cohesion across former conflict lines as a measure for violence prevention.
The project started by introducing playback theater as a dialog approach that combines public storytelling and improvisational theatre. In part due to the work of CSSP, playback theater is now accepted and appreciated as an effective dialog process that connects communities and provides space for sharing emotional experiences related to the armed conflict and its root causes. Playback theater has been established as “Chautari Natak” in the Nepali language: The Chautari tree is a crucial public spot in almost every village in Nepal where people come to rest, meet others, and even settle their conflicts.
The project uses theater art, poetry, and music to bring the deeper layers of meaning behind the individual stories, which are shared during the sessions, to the surface. It results in the reduction of mutual fears, stereotypes, and prejudices and supports the search for new identities. Telling personal stories brings relief to audiences, and empathic listening recreates broken ties in the community. This helps to restore the past and to imagine a joint future.
The selected communities are located in Banke, Bardhiya, Dang, Rupandehi, Mahottari, and Udayapur. In each district, a team of eight dialog facilitators is actively engaged in organizing the Chautari theater events.